Bosnian Serb ex-army chief Ratko Mladic is on trial for genocide over the slaughter of 8,000 unarmed Muslim men and boys. The week-long massacre in Srebrenica is held to be Europe's worst atrocity since World War II.
Mladic is appearing Wednesday before judges at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague, just under a year after his arrest in Serbia.
The 70-year-old is the last of the main protagonists from the Balkan wars of the 1990s to be tried before the court, having spending 16 years on the run.
Mladic is accused of orchestrating the massacre of 8,000 people at Srebrenica, which had been declared a UN "safe haven."
The systematic slaughter of unarmed men and boys took place in front of UN peacekeeping forces.
Prosecutors also accuse him of responsibility for the 44-month siege of Sarajevo, a "terror campaign" of sniping and shelling by Bosnian Serb forces that left 10,000 civilians dead.
'Salient reminder of justice''
The organization Human Rights Watch said the trial opening was a "salient reminder that justice catches up with those accused of atrocity crimes."
Mladic, nicknamed the "Butcher of Bosnia," acted as the Serb military commander in the Bosnian war of 1992 to 1995. The list of charges against him ranges from genocide to murder, acts of terror and other crimes against humanity.
Arrested last May at a relative's house in northeastern Serbia, he has so far remained defiant - dismissing the charges as "monstrous."
"The whole world knows who I am," he told a hearing last year. "I am General Ratko Mladic. I defended my people, my country ... now I am defending myself."
A not guilty plea has already been entered on Mladic's behalf. Defense lawyer Branko Lukic has said the defendant has suffered three strokes and is too ill to stand trial. The hearing is scheduled to continue on Thursday and resume on May 29.
rc/ncy (AFP, AP, Reuters)